ASK THE DOG TRAINER! *Handling Dog Reactive Dogs*

What am I supposed to do when I’m walking my 2 German Shepherds on their leashes and an off leash aggressive small dog approaches? I get that people think small dogs are harmless. But when they have so much aggression, it triggers my kind dogs to protect themselves, me & my toddler in the stroller. Do I let them eat the small dog? I hope not. I sure don’t want to drop their leashes and run… I’m really not sure what the safest way to go about this would be.

Amy from Utah

This scenario is all too common; especially when living in high pet populated areas such as Park City, Heber City, and Midway. Many dog owners who are fearful of this encounter, or find it too difficult to control their dogs around the unexpected prefer to go for walks early in the morning or late at night. Though this is one way to take control of a problem, it certainly isn’t ideal!

First and foremost, there will always be walks where something or someone is going to catch you and your dogs off guard. My best advice for dog owners is to focus more on controlling your own dog(s) than those around you. Turning around and walking the opposite direction is a great option, however, if the dog is persistent and continues to approach or follow you, using proper equipment is the next best option. Many runners carry sticks, pepper spray or tools that emit a loud startling noise in case they feel threatened by another dog. In a perfect world, all dog owners would be responsible and keep all untrained free roamers on lead. The reality is that we need to take it upon ourselves and be equipped to handle the unexpected.

Continuing the topic of utilizing proper tools, I suggest investing in head halters such as the Gentle Leader. These wonders give you full control over your dog by simply controlling their head. If another dog is approaching, you will be able to regain your dog’s focus into a different direction, theoretically avoiding escalating the tension. In some cases, just placing the head collar on a dog has significantly reduced their stress around their surroundings by submitting to your directions.

Dogs feed entirely off energy. From the sounds of it, you have experienced this scenario a few times, which leads me to believe you now instantly become uncomfortable when a little dog begins approaching your Shepherds. As difficult as it may be, keeping your energy as calm as possible is absolutely essential for your dogs to feed off of. As you’ve probably heard before, “The more calm-assertive you are, the more calm-submissive they will be”. Teaching your dog’s how to react more appropriately is also a great way to create better energy for the oncoming dog.

If you desire to really kick training into high gear and change the way your dog’s behave around other reactive dogs, I would suggest busting out those tasty treats. It is important to begin positively associating being calm near dogs (regardless of the other dog’s behavior) as incredibly rewarding. In most cases, dogs react this way – especially on lead – to over compensate and scare others around them if they are feeling insecure themselves.

  1. Start by treating your dogs the moment they notice another dog, but before they react through barking or lunging (this is called your dog’s THRESHOLD). Be sure to figure out where that is and keep them at that distance while rewarding all calm behavior. Slowly begin moving them closer and closer. If you test your dog a little too close and they begin reacting negatively– move back to your last threshold and continue training there a few more times before testing them again. IMPORTANT: When the dog is out of site, discontinue any treating or attention. We want them to understand that good things ONLY happen when other dogs are around!

2.Have a friend or trainer with a neutral dog assist you with this exercise to make it more controlled. You know you will be making strides when your dog’s see the other dog and look to you for treats.

This takes TIME! You are rehabilitating your dogs and showing them a new way to react around others on lead. Be patient and expect to take two steps forward and one step back throughout the process.

Happy Training!